My heart is a kettle boiling water on a stove. Heat radiates around it, pressure increasing, and it screams louder and louder until it’s too hot to even touch the handle. This heat comes from many sources on this metaphorical stove but let me talk about the one that controls the stove’s dial, my mind. Since anxiety and worry have pervaded my mental existence for as long as I can remember, the dial tends to stay fixed at high heat settings. I like to blame my mother for passing this down to me, that I was genetically predisposed to caring too much. However, that is not the case, and I know it. I must choose to take full responsibility for my thoughts and the actions that transpire from them. There are people with chemical imbalances in their brain which can result in a lack of control over their brain’s functions, but I am not one of them.
I allow myself to replay moments, useless thoughts, and worst-case scenarios over and over in my head, turning up the heat of the stove until my heart is screaming at me to stop. I choose not to listen because searing heat is what I’m used to and pretty much all I’ve ever known. The few times I have heard the screams were during meditation, but hearing and listening are two different things. If I had been truly listening, I might have taken the day off instead of working a double shift or let go of a toxic person in my life long before I became dependent on them. Whatever the situation was, if I had been listening to my heart, maybe the water within would be at a gentle, rolling boil instead of a scorching, explosive one. It would be a temperature you can steep tea and cook noodles at nicely. A temperature that doesn’t cause all the water, the emotions, to evaporate within minutes, leaving nothing but a blackened bottom.
Being the master of one’s own mind is easier said than done. Many people think they’re in control of their mind and many believe that their mind is outside of their control. However, those that are truly in tune can be sensed even by those that are completely out-of-synch with their surroundings. They’re the eye of the storm. While everyone else is caught up in the hustle and bustle, worrying about things they cannot control, there’s the people who seem strangely calm and collected. The world could be ending, and they’d just laugh and crack open a beer. My best friend, Duane was one of these people.
On a bright, windy, September morning, Duane invites me to go spear fishing with him and his coworker. I hadn’t done much more than snorkel and swim before, so I was hesitant. Over the phone, he said, “Lani, I won’t let you drown. I may get mad if you scare all the fish away, though.” I couldn’t help but laugh and meet him at the beach later that day. The wind had died down a bit at this point, but the break was still strong. We unload all the gear from his suburban and make our way down to the entry point. He gives me the layout of the land in this underwater world he so often visits. I nod nervously while he explains the areas to avoid. We suit up and make our way into the water.
As soon as I get in deep enough, I try to put my fins on, but the waves had another plan for me. The ocean pushes me around like a little girl in a death metal mosh pit. Spitting up water, I continue to try to get my foot in the fin. Once I do, I swim a short distance into the break until my fin strap snaps. Exasperated, I let myself wash back onto the shore and sit on the sand trying to fix the strap. Duane and his coworker are already quite a way out and I’m still fiddling with this darn strap. I give up on trying to fix it and swim out holding them in my hands. I finally reach Duane and show him my broken fin. He takes it and within a couple minutes hands it back to me fixed. I gape in astonishment that he was able to do it so quickly and underwater no less. He looks at his watch and says we better get going.
It’s this kind of energy that magnetized me to him. I felt like I’ve always been awkward and bumbling. Then this beast of a man comes into my life and tells me that I’ve got potential. He sees what I and many others don’t see in themselves. He sparked a fire within me. Even though he had years of experience on me, I was determined to get stronger and be better to one day rise to or above his skill level. We trained on land and in the water to strengthen my heart and lungs. He went to the gym with me to help build my confidence in the weight room. It’s such a great feeling to be able to squat just as much or more weight than the guy twice your size next to you.
That spark that became a strong flame quickly turned into a raging bonfire the more we trained together. However, I knew I would never catch up to him. He had more practice and was putting in twice the work I was, as if it came as natural as breathing. Eventually, I gave up trying to beat him and decided to work on my strengths instead of my weaknesses for a while. I still beat myself up occasionally for giving up. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Duane was starting to lose touch. It gets lonely at the top. He loved training and anything physical, but there were fewer and fewer people that could keep up or even wanted to go because they knew Duane wouldn’t make it easy. I wonder if I would have kept with it if I could have been there for him in Molokai… maybe he wouldn’t have gone so deep or came up so fast.
It was the day after Valentine’s Day. Duane had decided to fly to Molokai for a “man’s weekend” where he would go free diving and hunting, enjoying the great outdoors. When he told me his plans, I assumed he was going with one of his buddies and told him to be careful. He looked me in my eyes, held my shoulders, and asked ever so quietly, “Am I ever not?” I looked away ashamed because I knew he was right and, if anything, he should be the one telling me to be careful while he’s gone. Little did I know that he would be gone forever.
He was twenty-six years old, the biggest asshole I ever knew, and the first person you’d choose to head into a fire fight with. He was there for me at my weakest moments and proudest achievements. When I felt my motivation going into a downward spiral on a run, he’d trot back to my side and laugh at me. Then he’d look me up and down and say, “Is that all you’ve got?” That would incite a flash of defiance into my step, clearing my vision, forcing me to push my shoulders back, and helping me to forge ahead. To me, it’s the smallest actions that show me a person’s worth. That was one of the little things he did for me: he always encouraged me to be harder, better, faster, stronger… and the rest of Kanye West’s “Stronger.” Yet, even the strongest and toughest people are just that, people, and like all people, they die. At some point, their heart stops beating, their lungs stop expanding, and the light leaves their eyes. The dead can only live on in the people’s lives they’ve touched.
There are moments you share with people that stick with you like honey on your tongue or like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth. Both pleasurable in taste, but quite different in how you remember the flavor. In the beginning, it was all honey. Drinking Corona with a twist of lime on Secret Beach as the afternoon sun blazes above us, diving into a school of fish like a mirror shattering brilliantly before your eyes, and hiking Waimano Falls to be able to swing into the brisk pond below. Sweet and lovely, these memories sit lightly on my tongue, but I know they will fade in flavor with time.
It’s the peanut butter moments that stick with you forever. The thick, gooey flavor that gets stuck in your teeth and leaves a peanut-buttery taste in your mouth for hours. My favorite peanut butter memory was after a long day at school. He invited me over to have a couple drinks because his day had been even longer than mine. “Jet surgery is hard work, yah know,” he states haughtily, “I don’t just sit around all day.” I shot him an icy glare and he laughed a deep belly laugh. I had just come from a workout, so I desperately needed a shower. He tossed me a towel and turned on the water. I had spent the afternoon trying to figure out what classes to register for, whether I was going to continue with my Biology degree plan, whether I wanted to continue college at all, and what I was going to do with it. These thoughts had continued to run through my mind the rest of the day.
I let my mind turn up the heat so high that the additional heat from the hot shower caused me to explode. My strength broke and my walls crumbled as I slid down to the shower floor. I poured my heart out through my tears as the warm water poured down over my head. I cried until my breath was ragged and I was shuddering. I emerged from the bathroom 20 minutes later slouched over, red in the face, and eyes swollen. He takes one look at me and walks over to pull me in for a hug. He holds me until I stop shaking and whispers into my hair, “It’s okay. You’re okay.” I didn’t believe him, but I kept repeating it in my head until I calmed down. When I finally did, he walked to the counter, poured out two shots of Proper Twelve, handed me one, and toasted, “To all the bullshit that has yet to come.” We laughed and poured what is now my favorite whiskey down the hatch.
The “truth” is that there is no Truth. Badass people choose to be badass and shit bags choose to be shit bags. Terrible people can live a hundred years and awesome people can live twelve. People chalk shitty things up to a greater plan or purpose, but I think, sometimes, terrible things just happen. You can use that as an excuse to be dick or you can let it be the heat that boils the water in your kettle and create the most delicious tea imaginable, sweetened with a little honey.
© 2021 Writings by Z
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